“The Surrey-born and North Somerset-based painter printmaker Gail Mason works on the tantalising cusp between abstraction, with its repertoire of autonomous, gestural mark making, and naturalistic representation of landscape.”
With its pale and subtle palette of the invented landscapes of imaginative preference, and free, loose and spontaneous marks of dilute colour Mason’s work is light, airy, and sensitive to weather, atmosphere, and mood. Her often generic, rather than site-specific, landscapes are recalled through the sieve of memory rather than through directly observational or reproductive strategies.
Aptly, therefore, her recent solo exhibition at Bishop’s Palace, Wells during Spring 2018 was called ‘breathe’ and, sure enough, her energetic compositions depicting familiar west country landscapes breathe with the vitality of space, light, movement, and fugitive weather. Her conception of landscape in constant flux or, in the plastic terms of art, in process of formation compels her to speak of her “emotional landscapes”. The intense subjectivity of Mason’s interpretation of elusive landscapes links her art to Kandinsky’s notion of ‘inner necessity’ while the psychological dimension attached to her gestural, alla prima and improvised topographies surely aligns her immediately recognisable art to the leading St. Ives modernist Peter Lanyon, with whom Mason shares a preoccupation with the mood provoking reality of weather, to the American ‘field’ painters Joan Mitchell and Helen Fankenthaler whose delicately stained, thinly painted early masterpiece ‘Mountains and Sea’ has proved so influential on a subsequent generation of British women painters like Jennifer Durrant, Mali Morris, and others.
Both in terms of her protracted art education — beginning at Heatherley’s Chelsea, and foundation studies during the early 1990s at Bournemouth College of Art and then completed with a Masters in Multidisciplinary Printmaking from UWE, Bristol in 2004 — followed by a teaching stint at Weston College, Mason has sought to integrate painting and printmaking in a single open ended and exuberantly expressive whole. The overtly painterly approach is compatible with screen printing, the painterly printmaking media par excellence, and Mason paints gesturally onto silk screen mesh to register single monotypes where layering and the accretion of marks create composite landscapes experienced by the artist at different times and places.
Despite the elusive, fictive landscape space of her painterly monotypes– using the facilities at Spike Print Studio, Bristol near her Claverham base — works shown at Wells like ‘ Where The Cuckoo Calls’, ‘ Wandering Through Heather’, ‘Heath’, ‘Sea Spray’ and ‘Spring Walk’ uncannily evoke specific places, thereby investing Mason’s otherwise autonomous and hermetic abstractions with a quality of ‘genius loci’, so intimate a part of the English Romantic landscape tradition, practiced by Piper, Hitchens, Lanyon, Wynter, and others. ‘Spring Walk’ is surely a distantly memorised image of the Purbeck Hills, to the West of Poole, where Mason lived for a decade or so during the 1980s.
The suggestiveness of landscape, whether real or imagined, is achieved through the primary role of Mary Potter-like muted colour and is counterbalanced in her introspective yet assertive paintings and prints with a series of iconic ‘Heads’, anonymous physiognomies no more to do with specific people than her landscapes are of specific places. Colour is sacrificed in these works for a ‘grisaille’ of monochrome, the focus always based on surface form and texture.
These ‘Heads’, which are sculptural in character, allude to the fact that during a restless and searching education she studied sculpture at Heatherleys before pursuing the tactile and textural qualities of surface suggested by her characteristic and personal fusion of paint and print. Mason is an active and widely exhibited artist, showing regularly at the RWA Autumn Exhibition, Bristol, the Bath Society of Artist’s annual at the Victoria Art Gallery, as well as in London at the Bankside, Mall, and had work selected for the RA Galleries. Since 2013, she has been an active member of the Bath Society of Artists. She also exhibits widely in the locality, with appearances at Clifton Arts Club and Clevedon Art Club exhibitions. She has also produced monotypes for Bristol Dental Hospital and shown at Musgrove Park Hospital, Tauton. Such locations are ideal for an artist whose prints have been described by Bristol’s ‘Venue’ magazine in 2006 as “joyful, arresting, and peaceful”.
‘B r e a t h e’
The Bishops Palace, Wells
2018 Where The Cuckoo Calls (Giclee available)